PORT ARTHUR —
Spend a few moments speaking with Nederland graduate Michael Defee and judgments about football officials might change.
Defee is a referee in the Big 12 Conference and he can quickly list the job’s responsibilities one after another. Many of them are areas the average fan probably never thinks about.
Defee, who wears a white hat, must keep an eye on a number of factors not only during each game but during each play. It takes a lot of work and stamina to keep up with the high-speed game college football has turned into these days.
His crew was recently in charge of a game which went under a microscope by fans and even the Big 12. He was working the Texas at Iowa State game when a national dispute broke out over the game’s final minutes.
Texas running back Jonathan Gray appeared to fumble near the end zone and an Iowa State player came away with the ball. Officials, after watching replay, determined Texas would maintain possession. The Longhorns scored the winning touchdown two plays later. Iowa State’s coach, as you might expect, was livid.
“We got the play right,” Defee said. “The judge should have called forward progress was stopped, but at that time in the game sometimes officials are reluctant to make that call because it takes replay out. We were able to go to replay and we made the right call.”
The Big 12 reviewed the call and said there was not strong enough evidence to overturn the call.
“There is a lot of pressure in this job,” Defee said. “To the university, conference and to us this is a business. So we want to make the right calls.”
Working a game at the college level is not the most difficult job in the officiating business in Defee’s mind. The toughest times were years ago.
“Pop Warner football is the hardest level to be a ref,” Defee said. “The parents and coaches are the hardest on the refs at that level. I am not too sure why people actually do it. It is tough.”
Defee is a 1980 graduate of Nederland High School and now lives in Mauriceville. He got into officiating because, like many in Southeast Texas, he loves the game of football.
“It is a year-round proposition,” Defee said. “The month of January is really the only month off from officiating I have each year. There are spring games and spring practices. We teach four to six camps a year. From Labor Day to the second week of December, I have no weekends off.”
Defee also spends time grading officials in the Big Sky Conference. He then later in the week communicates with his crew from the Big 12. There is about five hours of gym time and meetings.
“It is a lot of hard work,” Defee said. “We don’t just put the uniform on and go out on the field. It is much more than that.”
Defee went on to describe each responsibility he might have on a given play. There is a certain part of the formation Defee must watch. He also watches substitutions, the play clock and any other area teams might be operating under that’s an infraction of the rules.
“There is a tremendous amount to watch on every single play,” Defee said. “I could draw diagrams just like coaches draw on boards.”
Even being as busy as Defee is during a game, there is still the joy of watching football. One season really stands out in his mind.
It was back in 2008 and it was a great year in the Big 12.
Oklahoma came into its rival game against Texas ranked No. 1, while the Longhorns were inside the Top 5 in the country. Texas beat Oklahoma and was later named the No. 1 in the nation.
It was not too much longer when Texas lost to Texas Tech. Texas fans will remember the late, game-winning catch by Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree.
So the Raiders jumped up the rankings only to lose to the Sooners to jumble the Big 12 standings. While many of us watched the game on television or were lucky enough to be at one or two of the games, Defee was standing on the field for all three.
“That was an incredible year,” Defee said. “We (officials) are just like a team out there. We take responsibility for our calls and get graded on every play. We spend hours watching game film of the teams we are going to officiate and try to learn their tendencies and formations. I love the game of football and what better way to see the sport?”
Defee could one day soon be one of the men playing on Sundays. He has entered his name on a list to be a ref in the NFL. He said it takes a ref to retire for a new guy to jump up the ranks.
Southeast Texans can see Defee this week when Baylor visits Kansas State. He will then take his whistle to Oklahoma State’s’ home game versus TCU. After that it’s Texas Tech at Oklahoma.